Behavioural addiction

Behavioural addiction, also known as process addiction or impulse control disorder, is defined as compulsively engaging in behaviours or activities that cause significant damage to your physical, emotional or financial wellbeing. Addictive behaviours come in many forms and affect thousands of people around the UK every year.

While it can be difficult to see any light at the end of the tunnel, there is help available if you are ready to make positive changes. We have taken care to explain in detail what behavioural addiction is, the risk factors and where to find help.

Types of behavioural addiction

Behavioural addiction comes in many forms, each triggering the need to enact the behaviour to relieve obsessive thoughts and cope with difficult emotions. Some common examples include:


Shopping addiction

Compulsively buying items you do not need or cannot afford. Also known as oniomania.


Gambling addiction

Compulsively gambling and often spending large sums of money on casino games, sports or races.


Internet addiction

Feeling as if you are unable to control the amount of time spent online. This can also lead to porn or gaming addictions. 


Gaming addiction

Playing video games to an excessive degree and neglecting other areas of your life. 


Porn addiction

Obsessively looking at pornographic images or videos even when it is not appropriate to so do.


Sex addiction

Constantly feeling a need to engage in sexual activity with yourself or with others.


Food addiction

Being unable to control eating habits and experiencing fluctuating weight gain/loss and developing conditions such as obesity.


Eating disorders

Having an unhealthy relationship with your food intake and body image due to physical or psychological factors. 


Social media addiction

Becoming obsessed with social media can become an unhealthy habit, and  can occur in a variety of ways.


What causes behavioural addiction?

Process addictions are complex mental health disorders with many potential contributing factors. Causes can vary depending on your genetics, family history or personal circumstances.

Addiction experts have discovered that those who are suffering from behavioural addictions may experience a higher sensitivity to reward and a lower sensitivity to punishment. This means that those who engage in risky behaviours are more focused on the thrill and excitement of the act rather than the possible negative consequences.


In some cases, underlying mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder can cause behavioural addictions. Addictive behaviour can become an unhealthy coping mechanism for dealing with difficult emotions, often leading to feelings of shame, isolation and loneliness. Some people suffering from process addiction may experience difficulty regulating their emotions, feeling as if they cannot control their behaviour when they are feeling sad, anxious or angry.

Addressing these feelings is a key component of the behavioural addiction treatment programmes offered by UKAT rehab clinics. We aim to treat not only the symptoms of addiction but also the psychological roots of the problem.


What are the signs and symptoms of behavioural addiction?

If you think that you may be suffering from a behavioural addiction, you could consider if you have experienced any of the following symptoms:

  • Preoccupation with thoughts about the activity and when you can next do it
  • Continuing the behaviour or activity despite any damaging consequences
  • Lying about or hiding behaviours in order to continue them
  • Feeling out of control and finding it hard to stop the behaviour
  • Neglecting important areas of your life such as work or relationships
  • Feeling guilt or shame about your behaviour but being unable to stop

You may be worried that a loved one might have a process addiction. If so, here are some of the key warning signs to look out for:

  • Money issues or preoccupation with money
  • Secretive behaviour
  • Unusual mood swings or changes in behaviour
  • Changes in eating habits or weight
  • Isolating themselves from friends and family

If any of the symptoms listed resonate with you, you can call us for treatment advice or click on the specific addiction above for further support and guidance.



What are the risks associated with behavioural addiction?

Behavioural addictions can inflict severe damage upon your physical and emotional wellbeing. If you do not seek treatment for addictive behaviour, you may experience negative consequences on the following:

  • Physical health – heart problems, weight gain or loss, and liver damage. This is most prevalent in food addiction and eating disorders but can be caused by the emotional stress of other process addictions.
  • Mental health – depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.
  • Financial wellbeing – falling into debt when you spend more money than you can afford on activities related to your addiction.
  • Personal relationships – problems with friends, family members and partners due to secretive behaviour or changes in mood.
  • Education or career – issues at school or work due to a lack of focus or energy caused by increased time spent on activities.


Is behavioural addiction treatment available in the UK?

Fortunately, there is a selection of different treatment options available for behavioural addiction in the UK. If you are worried that you or someone you know may be struggling with process addiction, the first step is to seek professional help with treatment that best suits your individual needs.

Should you wish to pursue inpatient rehab to begin your recovery from behavioural addiction, the eight UKAT private residential rehabs located around England offer a range of behavioural addiction treatments. Our programmes are designed to help you to regain control and begin to enjoy your life without engaging in addictive behaviours. We provide treatment for:



Is behavioural addiction treatment available in the UK?

Unlike alcohol rehab or drug rehab, behavioural addiction treatment does not involve detoxing. Instead, the focus of behavioural addiction rehab is on learning to understand the triggers behind your addiction so that you are no longer consumed by obsessive thoughts and acting upon an addictive behaviour. The main types of treatment for recovery from addiction are psychoanalytic therapies, the 12-step programme and group therapy.

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) and one-on-one counselling sessions aim to discover the underlying reasons why you engage in addictive behaviours. In this type of therapy, you work with a therapist to make sense of your unconscious thoughts so that they will no longer have any control over your behaviour.

The 12-step programme teaches you how to cope with difficult emotions without turning towards addictive behaviours. The programme encourages healthy living by helping you to develop a new lifestyle free from process addiction.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy  (CBT) involves working with a therapist to identify and change the thought patterns that drive your addictive behaviour. CBT is usually one of the most successful treatment approaches for behavioural addiction.

Group therapy and workshops provide a supportive environment for you to share your experiences and learn from others who are also struggling with behavioural addiction. This type of treatment is often very effective at treating gambling or sex addictions.


Is behavioural addiction treatment available in the UK?

Some withdrawal symptoms from behavioural addictions include but are not limited to:

  • Physical – headache, nausea and abdominal pain
  • Psychological – irritability, anxiety and depression
  • Emotional – sadness when you cannot engage in your addiction, and feelings of emptiness or hopelessness
  • Social – isolation from friends and family members


We build our treatment around connection so you are supported emotionally throughout your recovery journey and learn from others going through the same process. If you would like to learn more about behavioural addiction treatment at our residential rehab centres, contact a member of our team today, and we will be able to answer any questions you might have.


The role of connection in behavioural addiction recovery

At UKAT, we understand that continuing your recovery from behavioural addiction once you leave rehab can be difficult. If you do not receive sufficient support, you could potentially relapse into your old addictive behaviours. Therefore, we offer all of our clients one year’s free aftercare to help you continue your recovery once you have completed treatment at an inpatient rehab.

We have established a UKAT alumni network to provide you with support during any difficult times in your recovery. However, it is important to remember that while rehab offers all the resources available to help you overcome behavioural addiction, we cannot do the work for you. You must be willing and ready to begin your recovery from behavioural addiction.


How to help a loved one with behavioural addiction

The best way to help a loved one seek treatment for behavioural addiction is to present them with all of the available treatment options and to provide examples of positive rehab experiences. You can read some of our client stories to understand the rehabilitation process in greater detail, including what to expect and how to get the most out of treatment.

Beginning behavioural addiction treatment can seem like a monumental task, but with our help and support, it doesn’t have to be. We have helped so many people make positive changes in their lives and achieve long-term recovery from their addiction, and we can help you too when you are ready to make a change.


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